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Why Samsung Makes Retina Displays for Apple — But Not for Its Own Tablets


If you haven’t yet laid eyes on the new iPad’s screen, you must. “Sharp” doesn’t begin to describe Apple’s upgrade in display quality. But here’s the kicker: Samsung, a company firmly aligned with Android and one of Apple’s largest competitors in the mobile space, is manufacturing the new iPad’s flagship feature.
So, naturally, questions arise: Why are we seeing Retina displays in iPads but not in Samsung’s own Galaxy-branded tablets? Why would Samsung allow itself to be trumped by a mere customer?

A Brief History

The component supply industry is backwards, convoluted and damn near impenetrable. Like some twisted web of New Jersey mafioso, competing companies will cut opponents’ throats on the very same day they cut each other deals.
Example: While Samsung pumps out tens of thousands of high-end LCD panels for Apple, the two companies remain embroiled in longstanding intellectual property litigation, with Apple accusing Samsung of blatantly ripping off the iOS user interface, as well as Apple’s iconic product designs.
Samsung isn’t just “Samsung,” though. It’s a massive, multi-national conglomerate made up of more than 30 independent businesses, covering areas as disparate as life insurance and petrochemical engineering. One such free agent is Samsung Mobile Display. Founded in 2009, this company takes the years of R&D done by Samsung Electronics and Samsung SDI in AMOLED technology, and uses it to tuck nicely into products such as televisions, tablets and mobile phones.
So while Samsung Electronics Company LTD gets its pants sued off, Samsung Mobile Display wheels and deals with Apple at the very same time. And, of course, while all this is happening, both companies compete fiercely to sell mobile phones and tablets as quickly as possible.
Samsung isn’t the only company that manufactures displays for direct hardware competitors. LG and Sony — both notable players in the Android phone and tablet space — do it too. To put it simply: It’s complicated.

AMOLED’s Roots Run Deep

As it stands, Samsung champions a display technology for its own mobile products that’s currently of no appeal to Apple. Dubbed AMOLED (shorthand for active-matrix organic light-emitting diode), Samsung has deployed this display tech in millions of mobile phones — most notably, the Galaxy SII, the company’s flagship Android device of 2011. The Galaxy Tab 7.7 also touts a Super AMOLED display as one of its most noteworthy features. (The “Super” variety of AMOLED integrates touch sensors directly in the surface glass of the screen, increasing brightness and reducing power consumption.)
Indeed, Samsung has a lot riding on AMOLED technology. “They’ve invested a considerable amount of money into OLED development and products in that industry,” Vinita Jakhanwal, an analyst with IHS iSuppli told Wired. “Tens of billions of dollars in investment over the past decade.”
In a sense, Samsung has a notable edge over competitors in the display space. Currently, Samsung Mobile Display is still the only manufacturer that can mass-produce Super AMOLED displays, says NPD DisplaySearch analyst Paul Semenza. And the company is using its advantage by pushing it out to Samsung-branded phones. “The Galaxy S phones have been quite successful by highlighting the AMOLED display,” Semenza says.
Part of the success ties to AMOLED advantages over LCD. For one, AMOLED displays consume relatively little power — a nice benefit of a design that requires no battery-draining backlights. Relative to LCDs, AMOLED displays also offer higher contrast ratios and color saturation, with reds, greens and blues looking brighter and more spectacular. And while AMOLED currently costs more to produce than LCD, the price will decrease over time as Samsung scales its display manufacturing capabilities.
In order to focus on AMOLED, Samsung recently spun off its unprofitable LCD business. “Samsung essentially owns the supply on AMOLED screens,” NPD DisplaySearch analyst Richard Shim told Wired. “And they’re going to give it all to Samsung Mobile Group.”

Tradeoffs

Of course, in looking at any competing technologies, there will always be tradeoffs, and AMOLED doesn’t trump LCD in every department.
First off, Samsung’s AMOLED technology can’t currently deliver the amazing 2048×1536 screen resolution of the new iPad, which packs more than 3 million pixels inside a 9.7-inch display. What’s more, some tests have shown that the organic materials used in OLED displays have a shorter brightness lifespan than those used in LCDs (depending on the type of device). So after five years or so, your handset may be half as bright as it used to be (though, to be fair, this is mostly an issue in TVs rather than phones, which we tend to replace every two to three years).
Technical limitations notwithstanding, Samsung may be compelled to stick with AMOLED displays simply for a dramatic point of differentiation in the tablet space. In short, the Retina display may be awesome, but at least a tablet with an AMOLED display is different.
“Most tablets have similar types of functions and features,” Jakhanwal said. And when every tablet looks and acts like every other one, customers have no reason to choose one over another. “So the [original equipment manufacturers] are looking to differentiate their products,” Jakhanwal said. Tablets are basically all display, so adopting a novel screen technology is perhaps the best starting point for differentiation.

Consumers Don’t Want It — Until Apple Tells Them They Do

Here’s the problem with Apple: The company is intent on solving problems we never knew we had. The tablet form-factor was laughed at when Steve Jobs first introduced it. Tens of millions in iPad sales later, and the naysayers are eating crow (not to mention trying to make successful tablets of their own).
That’s the case with the new iPad and its fancy-pants display. “Consumers aren’t necessarily asking for higher resolution,” says Richard Shim. “But this is sort of Apple’s M.O — the idea that, ‘You don’t know what you want because we haven’t told you yet.’”
So now the onus is on Samsung to convince us that while we should care about display tech, it’s brightness and color — two areas in which AMOLED excels — that we really need to worry about.
Will Samsung stay the course and make AMOLED the future in all of its devices? Or will it cave and follow Apple’s lead yet again? We don’t know for sure, but it’s nice to imagine Samsung will try and think different (so to speak) in order to outsmart the competition.

Why Windows Phones Are the Most Exciting Handsets at CES


There’s a curious thing happening in the smartphone space at this year’s CES. Two Windows Phone devices — the HTC Titan II and the Nokia Lumia 900 — are the most hyped, talked-about phones at the show. Yeah, that’s right: Windows Phones.

This could be a good sign for Microsoft, whose critically acclaimed OS has had a hell of a time trying to make an impression with smartphone users.
“The past year has really been the whole push to build what clearly can be the strong third ecosystem in the smartphone market, with a very differentiated point of view,” said Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer at the Nokia keynote this week. Indeed, with the launch of these new Windows Phone handsets, the push has apparently paid off.
Headlines like “Why Windows Phone is Making Waves at CES” and “How Nokia’s Lumia 900 Windows Phone Won CES Before It Even Started” are key indicators of the excitement surrounding Windows Phone’s big leap into relevance in the smartphone market. Before the show even started, Nokia’s next-gen Lumia handset, in particular, was on the receiving end of a tremendous amount of anticipation and praise. And for good reason.
Until now, Windows Phones were behind the times, specs-wise. Several late 2011 models skimped on things like 4G and front-facing cameras, features we’ve come to expect in pretty much every smartphone that debuts. Enter the Titan II and Lumia 900. They’re 4G LTE phones on AT&T, and pack top-of-the-line features.
LTE 4G capability started picking up buzz at CES 2011, but this year it has become the standard that everyone wants in a data-munching smartphone. AT&T is rapidly deploying its 4G network across the U.S., playing catch-up to other carriers like Verizon, which already has a broad LTE network in place as well as a well-established lineup of compatible devices.
However, until now, 4G LTE has primarily been limited to Android devices. Now Windows Phone handsets offer a second OS option for LTE data service, along with another major selling point: consistency.
Photo: Jon Snyder/Wired.com
Windows Phone versus Android OS
Unlike Android — a platform that allows manufacturers and carriers more customization liberties than they know what to do with — the Windows Phone experience is designed to remain essentially identical from handset to handset.
OEMs and carriers still have the ability to add a few of their own touches to Windows Phone devices, but they’re limited in the ways they can do that. And that’s a good thing.
Microsoft senior product manager Greg Sullivan said manufacturers can primarily add customization at the app level, pinning apps as Live Tiles to the Window Phone homescreen. On the HTC Titan II, HTC added a Live Tile called HTC Hub, which aggregates feeds for stocks, news and weather in a single place. And for the camera, HTC extended Windows Phone’s core functionality with features like panorama mode and auto fix.
Bad-ass cameras are a key trend in savvy smartphone differentiation. We’re seeing lots of 8-megapixel models, a number of 12-megapixel handsets, and get this: The Titan II has a rear-facing 16-megapixel camera. This is the sort of thing we’ve been waiting to see from Windows Phones.
But what about Ice Cream Sandwich, otherwise known as Android 4.0? Shouldn’t that be a big focus of smartphones at CES, like Android 2.3, Gingerbread, was last year?
“I think the excitement around ICS is really for developers to be able to craft apps that go seamlessly across phone and tablet,” Forrester analyst Charles Golvin says.
The Samsung Galaxy Note (which is arguably a tablet, given its size) and the Sony Xperia S and Arc arenotable Android announcements, but reek with a bit of, well, “we’ve seen this story before.” We’ve been seeing Android smartphones with big, beautiful screens, high-power multi-core processors, and impressive cameras since last year. They’re all nice, yes. But they don’t scream innovation.
In most ways, Windows Phone is playing catch up. But for those of us who deal with smartphone news and technology on a daily basis, it’s exciting to see a new player enter the game in earnest. A major reason for that excitement is Microsoft’s and Nokia’s Windows Phone product synergy.

Microsoft and Nokia’s partnership
Nokia makes great phones. Microsoft has developed a great mobile OS. After announcing a partnership in early 2011, we’re finally getting to see the fruits of this collaboration.
“There’s been a great amount of pent-up demand to see the results of this relationship,” Sullivan says.
Given Microsoft’s tight partnership with Nokia, I asked Sullivan if Nokia phones would end up being the “truest” Windows Phone devices — similar to how Google’s Nexus smartphones are the purest implementations of the Android OS.
“Because of our different approach, I think every Windows phone is going to be the flagship,” Sullivan says. “It’s true the Nokia relationship is unique, so we’ll see some great collaboration, but we have great collaboration with other partners as well.”
The Nokia Lumia 710 and 800 are well-made products that run Windows Phone OS swimmingly. But the 800 isn’t available yet in the U.S. (indeed, at the Microsoft keynote, the Lumia 800 was announced for Canada but not U.S. markets), and the 710 just went on sale to the public today.
By my count, the Nokia Lumia 900 is slightly outshining the HTC Titan II at CES, but only by just a bit. But the two phones do appear to back up Sullivan’s “I love all my children equally” affirmation: Each handset appears to stand alone as a potentially stellar product.

The road ahead
Critics may be smitten, but Microsoft still has work ahead in winning the hearts of consumers.
Forrester’s Golvin says there are four main things Microsoft needs to tackle to ensure that Windows Phone builds momentum in 2012: significant investments in quality marketing efforts; winning “flagship” positioning with carriers for several devices over the course of the year; offering a range of devices on each carrier network; and convincing salespeople that Windows Phone is just as good as iOS and Android.
It looks like Nokia, at least, plans to instigate a heavy marketing campaign to make sure the 900 gets time in the spotlight.
CES has never been a completely accurate indicator of what’s going to succeed in the year to come. What journalists and bloggers fawn over, consumers may end up shunning in favor of something else.
However, with smartphones in recent years, the “most hyped-about” phones have generally ended up faring well with mobile phone buyers. And if that’s any indication, Windows Phone stands a good chance of fulfilling our expectations.

Nokia Lumia 900 Review: More than a 'David'


Just like the biblical David 'thrashed' Goliath, this Windows Phone is going for a kill. Nokia’s long awaited Lumia 900 smartphone, first announced during the Consumer Electronics Show in January, has finally landed in our hands and will soon be on store shelves inAT&T outlets nationwide. We’re excited about the hardware — we know you are too — but this is about so much more than the beauty of the device or the software it runs. The Lumia 900 is the very catalyst by which Nokia hopes to regain its lost market share in the United States. It’s $99 with a 2-year contract; that’s a killer price point for any phone, let alone a high-end device. Nokia and Microsoft have spent millions on advertising and educating AT&T employees about Windows Phone and the hardware. Nokia isn’t just hoping it’ll make a splash by word of mouth, though. The Lumia 900 will be available in matte black, glossy white or cyan, the latter of which will definitely stick out on store shelves. But enough talking — is this the gangbuster device Nokia needs to make a comeback? Should this be your next smartphone? Let’s dive in!
[Editor's Note: Todd Haselton tested the Lumia 900 in New York City while Jon Rettinger tested it in Irvine, California. There are points in the review where the two agree on certain aspects and use "we" to show the two are in agreeance. Todd expresses his opinions on the device in first person in most of the review, however.]
Nokia Lumia 900 Front
Calling a phone sexy is a bit cliche (it also doesn’t really make sense), but I want to whisper things to the Lumia 900 I’ve never whispered to another phone before. Nokia and AT&T lent us a cyan “blue” review unit — I practically cried when I was first told we were getting matte black ones — and it is, hands down, the most beautiful new phone to hit the market in the last year. The polycarbonate body, also used on the Lumia 800, is strong, but light at just 5.6 ounces. It’s also incredibly resistant to scratches. Better yet, even if you do scratch the phone, the cyan color runs all the way through so you won’t get huge noticeable marks. Despite my love for the industrial design, our team had mixed feelings about the sharp corners of the phone, and several Buffalos said they preferred more rounded edges. Jon felt that the Cyan color made the device look like it was resting inside a case and that the black version would better hide that style.
Nokia Lumia 900 Back
The 5-inch x 2.7-inch x 0.45-inch Lumia 900 has a 4.3-inch ClearBlack AMOLED display with an 800 x 480-pixel resolution. I’ve become more partial to displays with tighter HD resolutions, but the Lumia 900′s screen is still really solid and its deep inky blacks are matched only by Samsung’s competing AMOLED displays. Unfortunately, however, the screen isn’t nearly as sharp as the iPhone’s Retina display or the HTC One X’s 720p HD screen, and the lack of pixels is noticeable when holding the phone next to other devices. Text is blurrier on websites, for example. This isn’t necessarily Nokia’s fault, though, because Windows Phone currently limits display resolutions to just 800 x 480, so even if the Finnish phone maker wanted to add a higher res display, it couldn’t have.
Nokia Lumia 900 Text
I absolutely love the minimalist design of the Lumia 900: the phone looks and feels like a blank slab and yet it’s loaded with all of the features required in a smartphone. It’s clear Nokia’s top artists worked on this phone. The display is made of Corning’s super strong Gorilla Glass, which is resistant to cracks and scratches. There are three soft touch buttons below the screen, one for returning back through menus, the Windows Phone home button and a search button. There’s also a 1-megapixel camera on the top-left side of the screen. The right side of the phone is home to chrome colored volume toggle keys, a power button and a camera quick-launch key. The microUSB port, microSIM tray and a 3.5mm headphone jack are tucked away on the top of the phone. Finally, there’s an 8-megapixel Carl Zeiss lens with a dual-LED flash on the back of the Lumia 900 and a small speaker grill on the bottom.
Nokia Lumia 900 Right
Not all is perfect with that layout, however. The location of the lock button below the volume isincredibly annoying. It’s confusing to use when you want to lock the phone or use the volume. We accidentally locked the phone a number of time when we meant to hike up the volume of our music, which meant we had to be deliberate in turning to phone to look at it just to make sure we weren’t locking it. That’s a silly design mistake. You’ll want to be sure to check out our full video review to see the Lumia 900′s industrial build even closer.
Nokia Lumia 900 Multitasking
The Lumia 900 runs Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango Commercial Release 2), which adds support for LTE networks. I don’t want to spend too much time on Windows Phone as we’ve already covered it at length.  However, I am compelled to note that Nokia has an exclusive agreement with Microsoft to add its own applications to Windows Phone, and those apps are part of the reason the Lumia 900 should be at the top of your Windows Phone list.
Nokia Lumia 900 Exclusive Apps
Nokia Drive, Nokia Maps, Creative Studio and Nokia Transit are four free applications that are available from the “Nokia collection” inside the Windows Marketplace. Nokia Drive provides free voice-guided turn-by-turn navigation, Maps allows you to easily search for points of interest nearby and Transit provides free directions using public transportation in dozens of cities around the globe.
Nokia Maps correctly found my favorite coffee shop just a few blocks away and even showed a number of other alternative options. When I clicked the result I was presented with the phone number, directions, and reviews from Time Out New York.  Unfortunately, however, it doesn’t always provide the phone number for local establishments, which means it’s really not a replacement for Google Maps. Thankfully users can download a free third-party Google Maps (gMaps) application from the Windows Phone Marketplace. Nokia Drive downloads and caches maps so you don’t need a data connection and it works really, really well. It’s on a par with other turn-by-turn navigation options for mobile phones. Plus it’s free, so that rules.
Nokia Lumia 900 Drive 2
My biggest gripe with Windows Phone as a whole, and this isn’t the Lumia 900′s fault at all, is that it’s still only home to 70,000 applications. That’s a far cry from the hundreds of thousands that are available from the iTunes App Store and Google Play (Android Market). The store is growing at a rate of 300 new applications for day, which is good news, but users won’t find hit games like Draw Something or Words With Friends, which will no doubt be a turn-off for some potential buyers. Jon, however, didn’t find any issue with the available applications and said that Windows Phone offers him everything he needs.
Nokia also includes its incredibly useful “Nokia Contacts Transfer” on the Lumia 900. It automatically pulls in all of your contacts from an old phone using Bluetooth. That means you don’t have to worry about asking your carrier to move your contacts over for you. Since it uses Bluetooth, it also means it doesn’t matter if you’re switching from an iPhone, a BlackBerry or an Android device.
Nokia Lumia 900 Transfer
As for speed itself, the phone was super fast, especially during multitasking, thanks to its 1.4GHz single-core Qualcomm processor and 512MB of RAM. Many may wonder why Nokia didn’t choose a dual-core or even a quad-core processor but the answer is simple: Windows Phone doesn’t require that kind of power. It’s very efficient and snappy, even on lower-powered phones.
I took the Lumia 900 on a stroll around the upper east side of Manhattan and snapped a number of photos using its 8-megapixel camera. Just like on other Windows Phone devices, the Lumia 900 has a dedicated camera button for quickly taking photos. The camera button is hard to press, though, and you really need to be deliberate in order to take a photo. This is both a bad and a good thing: it means the Lumia 900 won’t go off firing photos in your pocket (Windows Phone allows its phones to shoot directly from the lock screen), but it also means that we had to press extra hard to snap a photo. A light press on the button focuses the camera and a full press takes the photo, which is what most consumers are used to finding on real point-and-shoot cameras. I was really impressed by the pictures I took with the Lumia 900 — colors looked beautiful on the display and images were just as sharp when I offloaded them to my computer.
The Lumia 900 isn’t capable of recording 1080p video, unlike most high-end smartphones on the market today. That’s a bit of a bummer, considering that the optics are quite solid. Jon found that the video he recorded was average and a little bit grainy. You’ll find examples of his clips in our full reviewvideo.
Nokia Lumia 900 LTE
The Lumia 900 cruised on AT&T’s 4G LTE network in New York City. I often saw my data speeds fall in around 11Mbps down and 4-6Mbps up. Those are fast — speedier than my home internet connection, even — and I noticed that most applications and websites installed and loaded almost immediately. I’m used to using a Galaxy Note LTE on AT&T’s network and the Lumia 900′s speeds were right-on-a-par with what I expect from the network daily. Jon also found that the speeds were consistent and faster than most other phones he has tested in our Irvine offices, although we used a Windows Phone throughput benchmark instead of our standard SpeedTest app, which could have affected the results slightly. Either way, it’s clear that the Lumia 900 is blazing fast and is certainly the fastest Windows Phone device currently on the market (that may change once the Titan II hits).
Nokia Lumia 900 Visual Voicemail
I made a few calls with the Lumia 900 in New York City and didn’t have any complaints whatsoever. My calls were all super crystal clear and my friends on the other end thought I sounded great as well. Jon also agreed that the call quality was excellent. The speakerphone certainly gets incredibly loud but it’s definitely hollow at higher audio levels. This was especially noticeable while playing music.
Just like the iPhone and Android smartphones, the Lumia 900 also has a visual voicemail feature that looked great and worked really well during our tests.
I live in New York City where I ride subways and in taxis, so Jon took the Lumia 900 for a spin in his car. He absolutely loved the phone’s Bluetooth sync feature, which automatically spoke his text messages out to him and then let him respond to them while he was driving using voice-to-text.  Speaking “In the car, I’m on the way home” was translated without issue, but there were some botched sentences when Jon spoke longer phrases.
Nokia Lumia 900 ContentsNokia’s flagship packs an 1,830mAh battery that’s rated for 7 hours of talk time and 300 hours (12.5 days) of standby time. Battery life was decent during our tests and we found we were able to get about 7 hours of talk time. Under normal usage conditions, with two email accounts pushing, regular texting and email browsing throughout the day we were able to get into bed with about 20% of the battery life. That’s pretty solid by today’s smartphone standards. We have one huge gripe with Windows Phone in that the battery doesn’t actually charge when the phone is powered off. Yep, we actually sat there thinking it was charging when it wasn’t. No other operating system has this issue and it’s one Microsoft needs to address in a future update.

Final Thoughts

I’ve said consumers should walk into an AT&T store and get their hands on a Windows Phone device just to see how solid the platform is. That statement is even truer now that the Lumia 900 is available. It’s the perfect marriage of Windows Phone and beautiful, first-class hardware all in a super affordable $99 package. If you want more applications, then I don’t blame you for walking out of the store with an iPhone or an Android device. But if Windows Phone does suit your fancy, the Lumia 900 is, hands down the best option available.
 

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